Here is a simplified summary of how preachers engage with the biblical text. It is not an exhaustive summary, but I hope it will offer some helpful insight.
1. Springboard Preaching
This is where the preacher touches down in a passage only as long as necessary to bounce out of the text and into their own thoughts. A word or phrase may be taken on the journey through the message, but it has long since been ripped out of its passage context. The preaching may be superficial and heretical, or it may be theologically brilliant, but whatever it is, it is not handling the Scriptures in a helpful or meaningful way.
2. Highlight Bounce Preaching
This is where the preacher is a little more aware of the context of the passage and moves through the passage noting highlights along the way. Typically these highlights will reflect the best bits of Bible study done in preparation, and if the message remains focused on the preaching text then it will tend to be a stronger message (there are exceptions to this, of course). This approach is better than Springboard Preaching, but it can still feel like a fairly amateur approach to preaching. That is not to say that there are not proponents of preaching styles that inadvertently advocate this approach, albeit with a greater emphasis on the unity of the message than the more rudimentary “random highlights” approach of an untrained beginner.
3. The Deeper Passage to Life Approach
This is where the preacher has studied the passage in its context and is able to present the message of the passage to some depth. The depth and focus of the passage engagement also allows for effective targeting and penetration in contemporary life application. This is not a series of mini-messages on various passage details, nor an oversimplification of the passage that offers a set of parallel preaching points. Instead, it seeks to allow each detail to work together to convey the single thrust of the passage in a message that really represents the passage in question (rather than forcing the passage to support a standard sermon shape as often happens in the previous approaches). Obviously the depth of the message and the accuracy in application will vary depending on the skill and maturity of the preacher, the time available for preparation, and the capacity of the listeners.
This third approach should honour the text in seeking to communicate what is actually there. It should stir the preacher who is actually studying a passage rather than simply shaping a message with different material. It should impact the listeners because the unique message of this passage will be planted in their hearts.
Let’s evaluate our approach to preaching and seek to stay in the text more than the first approach, and then seek to probe the text more than the second approach. And if we get into the realm of the third approach, then there will always be so much more to learn and improve!